We love data. In an industry constantly challenged to justify, measure and evaluate, data is an invaluable tool. We have more at our fingertips than ever before: tracking studies, surveys, segmentation, web and social analytics. Quantitative rigour is seen as a matter of course.
And yet, it has limits. Data helps us peek and prod, tweak and optimise, and there is no question these are important. But optimisation is about making the best out of the status quo, whereas often our challenge is to change it entirely.
For that, we need to go beyond the numbers and to the people behind them – the audience.
Audience insight sees beyond the status quo
Data tells us what people do, audience insight tells us why they do it. The former helps us optimise and evaluate. The latter helps us create a fundamental change in behaviour.
One example is Kindred’s ‘Make mine milk’ campaign for the UK’s dairy industry.
The background studies had identified the business problem – a 20-year stagnation in milk consumption. Research had also shown the problem was occurring with mothers buying less milk when shopping. The data-driven response to this behavioural change was to target this segment.
But the audience-driven response was different. Mums were buying only as much milk as their households would consume. That consumption, or lack thereof, was being effectively vetoed by their children – predominantly teenage girls. Teens would not drink milk because they thought it was “fattening”, “childish” and “uncool”. No amount of pressure on mums alone would change that and could have made the situation worse. Rather than optimising the declining status quo, audience insight led us into the true heart of the problem.
Audience insight leads to transformative creative
The agency offering has always been presented as a form of magic, with which we address business challenges with creative solutions. The critical moment is often halfway through the ‘show’, when we reveal that we have transformed a business problem into a creative one.
In the case of milk, even after the business problem had been successfully identified – that it is ‘persona non grata’ with teenage girls – we were left with the Herculean creative challenge of making dairy cool. As an attitudinal shift, this was not something we would be able to dictate, as it would be resisted every step of the way – we would have to demonstrate it. The key to the campaign again came from an insight into the audience: teenage girls want access to celebrity.
We created an integrated campaign of advertising, PR and digital that led teenagers to a new Facebook community – one that delivered celebrity-related news, discussion, content and that all important access. ‘Make mine milk’ did not promise impossible one-on-one scenarios, instead it brought community members fractionally closer to their dreams and role models – and united them with others who shared the same ambitions.
By getting celebrities to participate in milk-related events and challenges that could be shared by the community, we were able to change milk’s reputation without ‘pushing it’ on youngsters. The result was the first rise in milk sales in 20 years – growth driven by an 18 per cent increase in consumption by teenage girls.
Audience insight gives you unexpected answers
At Kindred, we maintain our own ‘agency audience’ – the Kindred 100, a group of 100 demographically and geographically representative consumers. They are helpful in a variety of ways, including kick-starting and sense-checking ideas, trend-spotting and the occasional light-hearted chat.
As part of our regular Q&A panels, we asked them about their favourite brands. What resulted was more than a list of the usual suspects; we also learned that ‘brand’ itself was a loaded term.
For many, the idea of a ‘brand’ meant fashion and perfume. For others, it had a surprisingly derogatory meaning. Both groups understood that a ‘brand’ is a communications effort, but the latter interpreted it with hostility – a means of ascribing false benefits to otherwise identical products.
When pressed, many would list their most used and admired products by name, for example Heinz Baked Beans, Penguin Books and Google, but those were not seen by the audience as ‘brands’. In fact, referring to them as such was taken as a slight.
Even with the audiences that duly recited mega-brands Apple, Nike and Adidas, unprompted admiration for a ‘brand’ often failed to reflect a consumer’s behaviour. One teenage girl, for example, waxed poetic about the iPhone, but confessed that she would never trade in her BlackBerry. If we had taken her responses at face value, we would have missed the real significance of the answers: there is a gap between a brand’s perceived value and an actual change in behaviour.
Audience insight comes from the audience
This statement may be tautological, but as critical as audience insight is, there is no real magic to it. We spend time with the audience, watching, listening and learning.
At Kindred, we have the traditional programme of focus groups and consumer and stakeholder interviews, as well as our Kindred 100 panel. We also make the time to experience our clients’ business, brands and products from the audience’s point of view.
Understanding comes from immersion, and we build that into our process; whether that involves working behind the bar, spending the day on the factory floor or even hosting a cheese tasting. Data can describe the world, but audience insight fills it with people.
Even as we are challenged every day to quantify and justify our results, we should never forget that creativity and communications are ultimately about people. A great campaign should unite both strategic disciplines – to combine the rigour and analysis of data with the provocation and vision that comes from audience insight.